it is the small everyday deeds of ordinary folk that keep the darkness at bay

Hawaii is the next Big Wave for Tiny Houses


Tumbleweed Tiny Houses –

When I moved to Maui in 2009, I had no idea affordable housing was in such short supply. There are plenty of empty apartments and houses, but purchasing a home or renting in Hawaii is not a matter of supply and demand, it’s based entirely on what the market will bear. And apparently the bears here have a lot more money than I do.

So ever since then I have been looking to find alternative ways to affordably enjoy paradise. I’ve considered container homes, tree houses and yurts, but when I stumbled upon Tiny Houses I was hooked! Tiny Houses are just what the name implies–they’re smaller than average and have a lot less of everything that a regular sized home has, except more character and less impact on the environment. One striking feature of most Tiny Houses is that they are built on wheeled trailers. This makes most Tiny Houses fit an area of about 8 to 9 feet wide by 16 to 24 feet long (128 to 216 square feet). I wrote an informative article about Tiny Houses not long ago: The Tiny House Movement.


Tumbleweed Tiny Houses

Over the last few months I have been on a journey to determine if Tiny Houses are allowed in Hawaii. It’s been challenging trudging through the red tape. The first obstacle I discovered was that Tiny Houses are not defined in the State of Hawaii as “Tiny Houses”. Initially the building inspector for the County of Maui, Department of Public Works, said that any “dwelling” must be a minimum of 220 square feet which meant that according to the International Building Code (IBC) a Tiny House would probably be defined as an “Efficiency Dwelling” (see details: Efficiency Dwelling vs Tiny Houses). A typical Tiny House is less than 220 square feet so I was bit discouraged and had visions of living in the jungle in a camouflaged, non-compliant Tiny House hidden away from civilization. But I’m not one to give up that easily.


Tumbleweed Tiny Houses

I think Maui County Council member Don Couch would describe me over the next few weeks as “persistent” to get his attention. I presented him with details about the benefits of tiny houses and why I think they are good for the community and he agreed to look into the matter. He and his staff made some phone calls and got some interesting responses. What they initially found out was that the County doesn’t have a definitive answer that is black and white about tiny houses.

Don introduced me to a “research assistant”, code named “Sam”, when we realized we needed help with the research. Over the next month or so Sam uncovered some very interesting facts that could change the course of the Tiny House movement in Hawaii.

Finding a new definition for Tiny Houses in Hawaii


Tumbleweed Tiny Houses

Sam made numerous calls to other state agencies and different municipal departments around the country (anonymously) and here’s what he said:

So far, it sounds like most tiny homes around the country are working around building codes by putting the homes on wheels and registering them with the DMV. According to the Maui DMV Operations Supervisor, a custom built travel trailer would be classified as a “trailer.”

Looking further Sam discovered the actual vehicle code section for “house trailer” which is Hawaii Statewide Traffic Code §291C.

House Trailer: a trailer or semitrailer which is designed, constructed, and equipped as a dwelling place, living abode, or sleeping place (either permanently or temporarily) and is equipped for use as a conveyance on streets and highways.


Tumbleweed Tiny Houses

It’s called a House Trailer!
The Public Works and the Plans Examiner Department said, specifically in reference to recreational vehicles; both said that they would have no jurisdiction over someone living in a recreational vehicle, that the DMV would have jurisdiction because it would be registered with them. The Building Permits Department said they would only become involved if an RV was no longer registered as a vehicle and was then classified as a home (RV was used instead of “house trailer” to save time explaining what that is). So officially, in Hawaii, it’s not a Tiny House or an RV, it’s a “House Trailer”. And it’s perfectly legal!

How to comply with the House Trailer laws in Hawaii*

  • Have a place to build and/or park your Tiny House on private property
  • The trailer it is build upon needs to be legal and must be registered by the DMV
  1. You need to have insurance for the trailer you are going to register
  2. The trailer has to go through an inspection (lights, breakaway brakes, etc.)
  3. The trailer needs to be weighed (the more it weighs the more it costs to register)
  4. It must pass a safety inspection

cypress-24What it means to Hawaii residents is that we have the green light to build or park a Tiny House on private property. These laws can be changed or removed if we don’t police ourselves and be good neighbors and community members. be sure to do any and all electrical to code. Use common sense and be considerate where and how you park your Tiny Home.

What the government will do now:

Revenue generation is a popular topic with government mainly because the coffers are low everywhere and public services are tight.  Property taxes usually pay for a lot of local government like Police and Fire, so whenever a good idea comes around that might reduce the flow into those coffers, local municipalities might want to throw in a few monkey wrenches (red tape and fees).  However, with this solution, and it is a solution to the economic woes for many people across the country, there are already built in regulations and indirect fees.

To build and use one of these Tiny House in Hawaii, you must have a legally licensed trailer.  Those annual fees (licensing and registration) can be fairly high due to the weight of the trailer.  Additional moneys go toward government the traditional way such as property taxes.  Because these House Trailers must be legally parked on private property, the owner of that property already pays taxes.

So expect that local municipalities and counties will attempt to charge fees, add regulation and generally find ways to make things more difficult without a really good, clearly thought out reason or purpose.  Ultimately, when community leaders see the benefits of Tiny Houses, they will see that they reduce the draw on water supplies and the energy grid, lower the impact on the environment, reduce the demand for social services, and provide an alternative to the high cost of traditional housing.

Here are two good reasons why municipalities should PAY people to live in Tiny Houses:

  1. Money:  Saving residents money so they have more to spend in the local economy, and reducing long-term debt.
  2. Environment:  Reduces the environmental footprint (less Space, Water, Energy, Garbage, Waste).

If you’re ready to live in a Tiny House, or you’d like to support this movement, connect with me for upcoming meetings, events and more.

Hawaii Alternative Considerations:

The main reason for all my research here in Hawaii has been due to the IBC (International Building Code) minimum square footage requirements.  Thus the need to build on trailers.   Some solutions suggest that Hawaii should relax of the minimum square footage regulations so that people can create alternative, low carbon footprint dwellings.

I spoke with Michael Janzen of Tiny House Design ( and he mentioned that some other alternatives are already developing in Hawaii recently.

Kauai -

Hawaii -

Big Island -  (great video!)

Maui -

Some other useful links:

Maui County Codes:

Maui County Building Code:

Maui County, Dept. of Public Works, Development Services Administration, Building Plan Review Section: Codes Enforced (County code amendments to the IBC and IRC)
2006 Int’l Residential Code (IRC) – Ord 3929 – New Maui County Code Chapter 16.08A, eff March 19, 2012
2006 Int’l Building Code (IBC) – Ord 3928 – New Maui County Code Chapter 16.26B, eff March 19, 2012

Hawaii Revised Statutes

2006 International Building Code (for Commercial and Residential Buildings):
(Per Plans Examiner Dept.: See Chapter 12 Interior Environment)

2006 International Residential Code (for 1 and 2 Family Dwellings):
(Per Plans Examiner Dept.: Reference “Efficiency Dwelling Unit”)

Statewide Traffic Code specifically addressing using vehicles for human habitation:

§291C-112 Certain uses of parked vehicles prohibited between 6:00 p.m. and 6:00 a.m.; definition; exceptions. (a) No person shall use any vehicle for purposes of human habitation, whether or not the vehicle is designed or equipped for that purpose, while the vehicle is parked on any roadway, street, or highway or other public property between the hours of 6:00 p.m. and 6:00 a.m. or while the vehicle is parked on private property without authorization of the owner or occupant authorizing both the parking of the vehicle there and its use for purposes of human habitation.

(b) As used in this section “purposes of human habitation” includes use as a dwelling place, living abode, or sleeping place.

(c) This section does not apply to the parking of vehicles and their use for purposes of human habitation in parks, camps, and other recreational areas in compliance with law and applicable rules and regulations, or under emergency conditions in the interest of vehicular safety.

(d) The department of health shall promulgate rules and regulations, pursuant to chapter 91, necessary for the administration of this section. [L 1972, c 48, pt of §2]

I’d like to personally thank…

Special thanks to Sam, who spent tireless hours researching the laws and regulations for me.  He did an amazing job wading through the legal codes, making calls and digging through red tape to find concrete answers to some important questions.

Much Mahalo to County Councilman Don Couch for his ongoing efforts to help find affordable housing alternatives for Maui residents, and all the time he has spent with me sorting out the details of this and several other issues.

Related Tiny House articles

How-To Live with Less for Tiny House Living:

Design Benefits of Tiny Houses in Hawaii:

Image Credits:

Many of the excellent, high-quality Tiny House images shown here are courtesy Tumbleweed Tiny House Company.

Stay tuned for a Tiny House Intentional Community / EcoVillage coming soon to Maui…

What does this all mean for Tiny Houses in Hawaii?
Operation Tiny House is a go! Feel free to move about Hawaii (in a Tiny House on private property).  If you’re interested in help with a Tiny House or you want to be a part of a Tiny Village on Maui, please contact me.

* Legal Mumbo-jumbo:  I am not an attorney and anything I say in this article could be wrong or mistaken so you should consult your attorney before even remotely thinking this is legal advice. Who would do that? Don’t be that guy!


  1. The tiny house movement sure is fascinating, and living in Hawaii, I can absolutely understand how this could become hugely popular. I’m sure the County will pipe up sooner or later regarding zoning for parking them when neighbors start complaining about additional people living on private properties.
    Personally, I’m not sure if I could live in such a tiny space, it be a huge lifestyle change. Which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Thanks for the info!!

    • Yes, I agree Cara. The county of Maui is sure to find a few ways to “address” this new trend, and I hope to work with them to make sure Tiny Houses remain an affordable alternative. As far as neighbors complaining; they’re just going to have to understand that it’s no longer a matter of choice–we simply need to find alternatives to sprawling high-rise apartments, dense city-block housing complexes and other not-so environmentally friendly housing alternatives. And Tiny Houses are one such positive solution. Mahalo for your comments!

  2. It’s great to see the progress you’ve made on this idea, and even better to see that it may actually be feasible! Great job Erik! And a very informative, well-written article as well!

  3. Couldn’t you register a tiny house as a boat? You wouldn’t need wheels, you wouldn’t be as restricted in width.

    While 220′ is more than I need it is not significantly more costly. I wonder what other obstacles you face if you build something inexpensive. Can you get away with a composting toilet and low-voltage electricity?

    • You could register as a boat, as long as it met the requirements of a boat I suppose. But why would you if you’re can already register it as a trailer? Yes, you can use a composting toilet as long as you handle the waste correctly, and you can be 100% offgrid.

  4. Hawaii is the perfect place for living small since its easy to be outside almost all the time! I would love to see this movement here. Makes sense on so many levels.

    • It is happening as well speak Liz! I’m excited that this is finally moving forward. There are some minor details to work out with the county, but overall, things are looking good! The next phase is figuring a way to cluster these Tiny Houses into tiny villages with integrated community gardens.

  5. Well written and researched Erik! So I guess if it’s parked on private property that you own or have permission to park, it’s all good?

    Look forward to hearing more.

    • Hey Tania, Yes, so long as the “House Trailer” is legally registered with the DMV, and it’s parked on private property, then it’s all good! Some details are yet to be worked out, like water, solar, composting toilets, electrical, etc, but we’re a go nonetheless!

  6. Awesome work Erik! Can’t wait to see your tiny house!

  7. Wow so cool that you are in a journey to make more red tape for those of us building homes here all ready. Go find yourself a tent live in that. You can live in the jungle. I’m sorry but you need to stop trying to get this going. What you weren’t expecting was living in Hawaii actually costs some money. Sounds to me like you are single. Have no kids. And will most likely move away from here in the near future. But in the meantime you want to get the building permits changed for your own selfish reasons. More then likely to charge others for this tiny house. But not for a tiny price. Go home to where your from.

    • Mahalo Coral, for your sentiment of Aloha. I appreciate that you have expressed your dislike of the idea, but your entire statement is just an attack on me. Perhaps you could provide useful information so that others could decide for themselves? And just to correct you, I’m not doing this for selfish reasons. You obviously don’t know me, and no plans on moving or stopping the Tiny House Movement from expanding all over Hawaii.

      I had a choice whether to allow Coral’s comment, and I decided to publish it because I want everybody to know that when a good idea challenges the status quo, there will be some that fear change. If you are doing something remarkable, there will always be at least one person that just can’t help themselves from trying to ruin it for others.

      • No I have no plans on helping your movement. Neither do I want to support this. Yes Hawaii is extremely expensive. Building a home is even more. The cost of rent is to high. But to make it so the county of Maui has even more people here is just plain dumb. I love the way it is. We’re all ready over crowded here. Why make it more.
        I am not afraid of change. Nor did I attack you. I feel that what you are doing is making it harder for me to get through the red tape of building my home. And honestly I’m glad we don’t have trailer parks here. That’s the plain and simple fact. Yes the housing market could change for the better. But it seems to me you are selling these homes for the purpose of a get rich quick scam. As a property owner. I would not tolerate a multitude of these. A squatters dream come true. That’s what you’re building.

        • Aloha Coral,
          1st, nobody is changing or attempting to change the current laws pertaining to you and your situation. Nobody ever said we were changing building codes that might affect those who are building traditional homes. Not sure where you’re getting that from. We are also not inviting more people to come here. We are simply providing a solution for those that are already here and want to live in a more affordable situation with less of a negative impact on the environment. Nobody is suggesting people move here. Nobody is advocating for trailer parks either. Not sure where you are getting all these strange, way out in left field notions from. And again, I am not in the business of selling these homes. I don’t even have one. Not sure why you insist that I am selling these homes, but it’s not a bad idea! So far you’ve said this idea is, “dumb” and “get rich quick scam” and a “squatters dream”. None of which can even remotely be derived from the article you are replying to, so I call that an attack. Nothing has suggested the things you are saying. Good luck with your search for someone who is doing what you are saying because we’re not. Good luck finding some other article that says what you think this one does, because it doesn’t. Sorry, but you apparently have the wrong number.

  8. Manon Carbajal says:

    I would love to be involved in your “Tiny House” movement on Maui. I’ve spent a lot of time admiring the houses featured on their website and am impressed by all of your efforts toward the cause here in Hawaii.

  9. Are there camping trailer parks on Maui? Where? Makena? Similar question as Tim- which of the links you provided explain about toilets, potable water, electric hook ups?
    Mahalo, J

  10. Great article on a great topic–thank you for doing all this research! I’d like to have a tiny house as part of Maui Discovery Center.

    • It would be a great asset to educate others about low-carbon footprint living, water conservation, low-stress living, and even how to live in a difficult economy. Keep in touch. Aloha

  11. Great and well researched article Erik! Although I think a single person could exist in a tiny house, I’m not sure I couldn’t exist with my independent husband! That said, I think that the whole housing industry has to think about more efficiency in smaller spaces. Less stuff, better relationships, better food and good community living. And tiny houses are a great place to start. I remember visiting Fiji and Solomon Islands….the houses are tiny (8×10) with whole families living in them.

    • Aloha Kathy, I couldn’t have done it without the unsung help of “Sam” who did most of the research! I agree with you that, Tiny houses are NOT for everybody. In fact, only a small segment of society wants to live in them because they are very small, not cheap to build or buy, and aren’t easy (takes work). You’re right about the housing industry needing some changes. The world isn’t getting bigger. Most people are going to have to find alternative living situations, and Tiny Houses are just one small solution to the lack of affordable, simple, efficient housing that isn’t for everybody. Mahalo

  12. Reading through the comments, conjuring up an image of Kathy in a Tiny House, Peter in a Tiny House next door, and two little skateboard-like Tiny Houses in front. ;-)

  13. Aloha Erik :) Excellent article…and great job taking the time & energy to research tiny homes for Hawaii. Maybe when I’m an empty nester that’ll work for me. I feel like I’m already living in a tiny house with 4 people in a 600 sq ft cottage – LOL. But I absolutely love the idea for affordable housing. :)

  14. John Maloney says:

    How one could design a mini-community grouping of house trailers that would provide for the individual and common needs but NOT be legally or visually a “trailer park” would be an interesting exercise. It would be far easier than the “mini-sustainbale community” I have been laboring to build on the Big Island. The impetus would have to first come from trailer owners who both acknowledged the real costs to provide the needed amenities and had the means to fund the work. Further, even with amenable zoning, the infrastructure would need to be a good neighbor within its neighborhood to avoid harassment or new enactments.

    • On the Big Island it can certainly be done. Tiny Houses built on trailers are stronger than “mobile homes” thus putting a few in the same spot does not constitute a potential hazard when a hurricane hits Hawaii. Tiny Houses, or “House Trailers” are therefore an idea solution for an eco-village or cluster of tiny houses made into a village. Surround them with gardens and you’re doing the island a favor! Best practices are important, so put into place an HOA of sorts that protects the community from trash, waste, water, pets, noise and other issues so that neighbors can be reassured that the project is a good idea.

      • John Maloney says:

        So in addition to a killer overall village design, create a job for a caretaker. That could be a retiree whose non-trailered home is there (that allows utilities to be connected to most sites) and he or she manages things. An extended B&B with privacy and axels.

        • Difficult to attach utilities due to building codes, etc, but offgrid is workable.

          Yes, sounds like it could be done so long as the county doesn’t have too big of an ego. Aloha


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